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Successful pilot program paves the way for 50 sheep to graze vast urban solar field

Benny, Kenny and Mr. Wade hard at work mowing the grounds

CMHA’s six-acre solar field on the Kinsman Road Campus

CMHA’s CEO Jeffery Patterson and landscape assistant Amanda Block greet the sheep

Sheep can reach places where no mower dare to go


In a partnership with St. Clair Superior Development Corporation (SCSDC), the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) welcomed three unusual guests last week to their sprawling Kinsman neighborhood campus, 8120 Kinsman Road.
 
Benny, Kenny and Mr. Wade performed a weeklong audition in anticipation of next season, when CMHA will welcome 50 sheep to tend its six-acre solar field.
 
"This was a small scale test, says CMHA sustainability manager Tina Brake. "We didn't want to find out the hard way that they were going to interfere with the solar equipment."
 
In fact, the trio passed with flying colors before heading back to Five Points Farm in Sullivan, Ohio over the weekend. The three were part of the 36-head flock that normally grazes the green space adjacent to the Quay 55 building just north of the Shoreway as part of the Urban Lambscape Program.
 
Getting up close and personal with the sheep, one finds them to be incredibly friendly and sweet animals that are unafraid of people and quick to nuzzle up in search of a petting hand.
 
"They're like big dogs," says CMHA landscape assistant Amanda Block. "They'll just follow you around. They like to be in a group," she adds, noting that the preference applies to humans as well as other sheep. "They'll automatically herd with you."
 
The sheep were chosen over ne'er-do-well goats.
 
"Goats will eat anything," says Brake, noting that would include wiring and equipment associated with the solar field. "Goats would probably jump on top of the paneling."
 
Conversely the gentle sheep didn't disrupt anything during the weeklong trial. They're also able to do a task humans cannot. One inspection of the vast 4,200 solar panel array tells the tale.
 
"This is a very difficult thing for a human and a machine to mow," says Brake. "This natural grazing not only saves us carbon from all the gas guzzling mowing machines, it's also just really hitting those social and sustainability high points." She notes that the sheep will nicely complement the Green Team Initiative, a program through which residents are employed to cultivate young plants on the Kinsman road campus that for the CMHA's 14 community gardens. The resulting harvests are shared with CMHA residents.
 
To do their part as green ambassadors, when the sheep arrive next June they'll be organic mowers and animated teaching tools for area youths as well, particularly those involved with CMHA's 21st Century 21 program and the local Boys and Girls Club.
 
"We definitely want to get the kids to come and see them," says CMHA CEO Jeffery Patterson, "but also to hear what value they bring. Also, some kids have never had the opportunity to see livestock like this, so that exposure is tremendous."
 
"I think that seeing farm animals in action in an urban setting in their own neighborhood is going to be a really great experience," adds Brake.
 
Judging by the response thus far, the sheep are bound to be a hit with area youths.
 
"A lot of folks have really taken to them," says Patterson. "I was actually out of town when they arrived, but I saw the pictures of everyone falling in love with them. This batch is so friendly and so nice you can't help but be intrigued and be interested by them."
 
"It’s a really interesting dichotomy," adds Brake. "You have an urban site over here, trains, solar panels, sheep and you're here on Kinsman. It's a really interesting moment to capture."
 
Cleveland's urban sheep: the rundown
 
- Their primary diet is grass and natural vegetation.
 
- If the grass supply dwindles, the sheep get supplemental alfalfa.
 
- The sheep have a constant fresh water supply.
 
- The sheep require no special shelter, although they enjoy the shade the solar panels provide.
 
- Their wool insulates the sheep from heat as well as cold.
 
- A llama protects the herd by Quay 55 from natural predators. A stalwart security fence that's already in place will protect the CMHA herd.

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.
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